Refugee Council of Australia President Phil Glendenning told a forum on September 15 that refugees sent from Australia back to Afghanistan by the John Howard government have been killed.
The Refugee Action Coalition organised the forum called “Stop Deportations — Why Afghanistan is not safe”, which also heard from Hazara Youth Perspectives Organisation organiser Sabira Naseri.
Glendenning said: “Afghanistan is the worst it has been for 10 years. The insurgency has taken a new turn because no one won the election, resulting in a power vacuum, exacerbated by the US. This power vacuum is being filled by groups using violence. Roads through many areas are controlled by the Taliban.
“One Lutheran Brotherhood group has been there for 30 years. They say it’s worse than [the] Mujahideen period of Afghanistan and the period of occupation.
“Of eight Afghan refugees that were sent back under John Howard, six are dead and one is missing. Three were killed in the last 18 months for the reasons they left in the first place.
“There are three reasons people leave. One is a lack of security. There are bumper stickers on cars in Kabul saying, ‘If you’ve worked with the West we will kill you.’
“The threat of being killed in bombings is another reason to flee. One Hazara area was shelled three weeks ago. The third factor is worsening economic conditions.
“Afghanistan now has [an] under 3% growth rate. Young men who are in Kabul trying to find work have to go back to their home towns, there is just no employment for young people.
“About 60% of Afghans are now under 20. There are 48 Internal Displacement People’s camps that surround the city. But people in the camps outside Kabul are taking the risk to go back to their own home districts and get killed. So that is what happened to the three refugees that were killed recently.”
Naseri told the forum: “In Afghanistan, Hazaras are targeted and slaughtered — we are singled out. But for Hazara refugees here in Australia, there is no guarantee we will be given permanent residency. The Temporary Protection Visas [TPVs] do nothing, they just add fear to our trauma.
“TPVs get reviewed every three years. Like the Hazara who was deported just a few weeks ago, who was reviewed, when we are under review we cannot settle. But [immigration minister Scott] Morrison is faced with a problem. The detention centres are overflowing.
“Sending Hazaras back is a mistake. The Taliban will say they are Westerners, then we will be tortured and killed. There is no assurance of safety. Morrison must not throw us back to torture and death. Life on bridging visas is hard. Afghanistan [is] not safe for Hazara refugees. All asylum seekers, not just children, should be released.”
Glendenning spoke about the government’s double standards when it assesses how safe Afghanistan is for Australians, compared with Hazara refugees.
He said: “Australia is taking its [government] workers out of Afghanistan, but they are returning Afghan refugees. For example the case of the 29-year-old Hazara who was sent back a few weeks ago by the Australian government, they said it was safe to send him back. I’ve been visiting Afghanistan for a long while, and walking around there recently I saw there were no foreigners around because they are in lockdown.
“There are Western government workers who I know have been in Afghanistan for 18 months but they are locked down for 18 months — they come into their government’s compound and then they leave. Australian embassies and others don’t declare their location and their workers don’t get out to talk to Afghans. The result is they get a different, jaundiced view compared to others in charities and NGOs on the ground.”
Glenndening also criticised the rhetoric of “saving people” through the policy of “stopping the boats”.
He said: “This morning in Afghanistan, five people died in a bomb blast — mostly women and children. I asked the Afghan’s ‘does it stop you going?’ ‘No’ they said. And why do people come? The Taliban have a death list. Large amounts of people are on this list. This is not made-up stuff.
“The Australian government keeps refugees locked up in Nauru and Manus Island so we don’t see this truth, don’t hear this, don’t see their humanity.
“The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spends $3.3 billion globally and $103 million in south-east Asia. With this, the UNHCR cares for 11 million refugees in camps and has responsibility for over 48 million refugees and displaced people worldwide.
“Australia spent $4.4 billion on detention last year. With military and added deterrence, that cost is closer to $8 billion. What an amount of money. And we take so few refugees. In [former prime minister Malcolm] Fraser’s time there were heaps more refugees coming in. And this argument – we have to be cruel to be kind. Well, it’s not being cruel to be kind, it’s just cruel.
“Then of course we have the added cruelty of our government arming the Sri Lankan government with gunships. There are far better alternatives than locking people up.
“One third of the money spent on detention would be better spent on housing refugees in the community. We have to have an alternative to punishment, we just need protection. It is all beginning to unravel. We had a man die from a cut foot. There are horrible conditions on Manus and Nauru.”
Glendenning spoke about what people can do to stop refugees being deported. “There are 43 cases, that lawyers are trying to stop. If we are not successful, the lawyers say these ones will be forced to go. I think peaceful protest has its place in cases like this. I think it’s good to contact the airlines directly. Make sure they know beforehand.
“We work closely with Refugee Action Coalition. The mobilisation of people is crucial. We need to win the hearts and minds of people. We need more people at our rallies and events. There are so many stories of people being threatened, because they are educating their families. But it can’t all just be about stories, it’s about a strategy.
“But we need to make sure the voice of the Hazara people and Sri Lankan people in this country are loud and heard. We need to make sure that is upfront.”